Category: Visual Art
The following is an image made by Meredith Stern which is available for purchase at Just Seeds Cooperative for $10. Stern explains why she created the image:
This is a redo of an image I made over ten years ago when the incarceration rate had already skyrocketed and the trend has tragically continued as a direct result of harsh and disproportionate racial profiling, targeting and sentencing of communities of color for non-violent drug related behavior. For starters, we must end mass incarceration, the criminalization of undocumented migrants, and the war on drugs. It is incredibly damaging for families, for communities, and our entire society to be putting such a large portion of our population in detention centers for non-violent behavior.
The Sentencing Project has incredibly eye opening data on the current state of affairs.
For anyone interested in learning more about the current state of affairs:
“This House I Live In” is a documentary about the “War on Drugs” in the US which I highly recommend.
For book readers I recommend “Race to Incarcerate” and “The New Jim Crow.”
I purchased a couple of the prints.
A monthly forum on Chicago-based cultural projects that confront, agitate, and work to dismantle the prison nation.
In the last decade, a growing number of artists, organizations and activists in the Chicago area have created artwork and developed responses to what is now termed a prison nation The U.S. locks up more people than any other nation in the world and exhausts more resources on confinement and punishment each year. One in 99 adults in the US is incarcerated; the financial and social costs to tax payers and communities is staggering. Conservatives, liberals and members of the left have all called for policy changes, yet when violence and poverty rage in Chicago neighborhoods, the common response is a call to lock more people away for longer prison terms.
Creative culture has been at the forefront of changing the public perception about the realities of social segregation, poverty, violence, and incarceration. Chicago-area artists have staged performances and exhibitions, created organizations and developed long-term projects to alter entrenched thinking and unsettle business-as-usual.
What kinds of projects are happening that create a culture of change? Can art decarcerate? Change the law? Liberate communities from violence? Envision and enact new futures?
I learned that there would be another protest yesterday for Roshad McIntosh, a 19 year old young black man, who was killed by a Chicago Police officer on August 24. Neighbors say that the young man had his hands up and was in the process of surrendering when he was shot and killed.
I had missed (because of illness) the previous protests demanding that the killer cop be named and that the police report be released to the public. I had, however, been closely following information about the incident on social media. Yesterday, I finally felt well enough to attend the latest protest. I grabbed a ride with my friends Sarah, Zach and Megan and we headed to North Lawndale for the 5 o’clock protest/march.
We marched from the site of Roshad’s killing to the 11th police district.
When we arrived at the police station, Roshad’s mother, Cynthia Lane, entered the building to ask for more information about her son’s killing.
She returned a short time later to say that the police didn’t tell her any more details about her son’s death. She vowed to come back every day until she got answers.
“As a global week of action demands justice for Mike Brown, young people from Ferguson, MO and their activist allies detail what #handsup means to them.”
Wherever there is injustice and protest, you will also find art. That’s the case with respect to the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests.
Below are a few samples of art that I have seen in various media platforms.
Jasiri X wrote a song called 212 degrees about the events in Ferguson.
Black bodies being fed to the system
Black American dead or in prison
Love for the murderer never the victim
Dead kids cant beg your forgiveness
We are at war
What you telling me to be peaceful for
When they break the peace by firing the piece now the peace gets tore
I don’t give a fuck about Quik Trip’s store
I saw the illustration below on Twitter. It’s by Sandra Khalifa. I’ve begun to curate other visual art related to the events in Ferguson here.
A few singers/rappers have produced music about Mike Brown and/or the Ferguson protests. Here are some of those:
It’s been a long and exhausting week so far. I haven’t gotten home before 9 p.m for three days straight. There’s a lot happening. I am excited that the “No Selves to Defend: Criminalizing Women of Color for Self Defense” exhibition opens at Art in these Times tomorrow evening.
I spent Tuesday evening into the night with my friends Rachel, Billy, and Ash putting the finishing touches on the exhibition. I am very proud of what we’ve created. The “No Selves to Defend” exhibition is an outgrowth of the anthology by the same name.
Both projects were inspired by Marissa Alexander. More specifically, they are inspired by her consistent and constant admonition to also focus on the cases of other women who have been and are currently criminalized for invoking self-defense against violence. As I thought about her desire to lift up other women’s stories, the idea to create a document that would highlight other cases was born. The exhibition is simply an extension of this idea.
A lot of people are responsible for making both the anthology and exhibition a reality. I look forward to the opportunity to thank them all at Friday’s opening.
For those who visit the “No Selves” exhibition, you’ll see that it opens with the story of Celia.
On June 23 1855, after enduring five years of sexual violence, Celia, a 19 year old Missouri enslaved woman killed her master, Robert Newsom. Newsom was a 60 year old widower who purchased Celia when she was 14. On the day of her purchase, he raped her on the way to his farm.
By the time she killed Newsom, Celia already had two of his children and was pregnant with a third. She had started a relationship with one of Newson’s male slaves named George who became her lover. George insisted that she end her sexual liaison with Newsom if they were going to continue in their relationship.
Celia approached his daughters and implored them to ask their father to end the sexual assaults. No one could or would protect her and so she confronted Newsom herself when he came to force yet another sexual encounter. She clubbed him to death and then burned his body in her fireplace.
Her court-appointed defense lawyers suggested that a Missouri law permitting a woman to use deadly force to defend herself against sexual advances extended to slave as well as to free women. In spite of this vigorous defense, the court disagreed with the argument and Celia was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
After an appeal of the case failed, Celia was hanged on December 21, 1855.
Reading Celia’s story many years ago, I began to crystallize my thoughts about the fact that women of color (black women in particular) have never had “selves” to defend. It is fitting then that Celia would introduce the exhibition.
I asked my friend the supremely talented artist Bianca Diaz to create a visual interpretation of Celia for the exhibition. Since there are no photographs of Celia, Bianca had to rely on her imagination. Below is what she created which will be on display. It is haunting and beautiful.
So, if you find yourself in town tomorrow at 6 pm, you are invited to the opening of the ‘No Selves to Defend’ exhibition. It will run until mid September at Art in these Times located on the second floor of 2040 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60647. The gallery is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible. Looking forward to seeing some of you on Friday!
This is the last story from the “No Selves To Defend” anthology that I will be posting here. This one focuses on the case of Cassandra Peten. Her portrait was created by Molly Crabapple and the essay is by me.
By Prison Culture
In April 1978, Cassandra Peten, a young mother and shipyard worker in San Francisco, left her abusive husband after nearly three years of marriage. During that time, she had been emotionally and physically assaulted. Peten had escaped her husband twice before; she left the third time, after he threatened to kill her.
She left her young son in her mother’s care and fled the state in search of employment. Peten had been working up to 70 hours a week while also studying to become a court reporter before being forced to flee.
On May 2nd, she returned to San Francisco to sign a $1500 income tax refund check, agreeing to split the money with her husband. At the bank, her husband only gave her $95 instead of the $750 that she was expecting. They argued, her husband raised his fist intending to hit her and she shot him, slightly wounding him in the leg.
Peten was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm and illegal use of a firearm. A Cassandra Peten Defense Committee was established to support her and it estimated legal costs “of as much as $10,000.” Demonstrations and fundraisers were organized in Peten’s support, led by organizations like the National Association of Black Feminists (NABF). One of the slogans was “Clear Cassandra Peten! Defend The Right of Women to Protect Themselves from Physical Abuse.” A flyer advertising a benefit dinner for Peten explained her plight:
“Cassandra Peten, trying to make her marriage work, took her husband’s mental and physical abuse. Then, in just one incident, human instinct made her stand up for herself. Cassandra is now charged with attempted murder and a number of other charges, all in connection with that one incident, in which she shot and injured her husband. For her normal human response to an intolerable
situation, Cassandra is now facing seven to ten years in prison.”
In 1979, she was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. The judge suggested that Peten was a danger to herself and the community. He revoked her bail, and sent her to the California Institute for Women for a 60 to 90 day ‘observation’ period pending sentencing. She faced up to 10 years in prison.
Surprisingly, after her ‘observation’ period, the judge sentenced Peten to the time that she had served and released her on parole. This was considered a major victory for Cassandra, her Defense Committee, and battered women.
An entry in the radical feminist publication “No More Cages” put it this way:
“Cassandra’s victory should be celebrated. But the other thousands of women who are victimized by their husbands must not be forgotten. Total victory will come only when no woman has to live in fear of physical and emotional brutality.”